Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
I’ve decided God has one wicked sense of humor. It seems no matter what topic I pick for an upcoming issue, it turns out to be the biggest issue in my life at that time. It was that way with the topic of spiritual crisis, coming out as a Christian, and nearly every other topic we’ve covered in this magazine. God can be so cruel at times.
This time it’s faith that’s giving me trouble. I believe at any other point in my life I could write a rousing article or sermon on faith. It would be the kind of article or sermon that would have you saying “amen” at every paragraph … and leave you cheering wanting to hear more! But at this moment in my life, I can’t write such a piece. Why? Because I’m not sure where my faith is anymore. Oh, it’s still here … I haven’t lost it, not really. It’s just that my faith is rather bloodless at the moment. It’s not an active, vibrant faith. It’s more of a “bump-on-a-log” kind of faith. It just sits there … not really doing much at all … it just … is.
That, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing. Maybe a strong faith is a faith that goes unnoticed … is unassuming and quiet. Sometimes it’s been so quiet I’ve even forgotten that it’s there. In fact, there were points in my life over the past two months when I was convinced I had lost my faith all together.
The first blow to my faith came just before Thanksgiving. My 8 year relationship ended, leaving me to find a new place to live, and a new life to start. While the relationship was winding down, a second test of faith came when my favorite dog got very sick. Several thousand dollars later, there was no other choice but to give her peace. Her death came the same day my now ex-partner and I went to the church to sign papers officially dissolving our Holy Union.
I read back over that paragraph and it seems so, dry, so technical, a dispassionate recounting of the painful events of the past few months. I cry while I type this. I’ve resisted crying during all of this, knowing that once I started, I wouldn’t stop. It’s hard to make others understand the pain you carry, deep inside, when events come at you, trample over you, and leave you face down in the dust wondering what the hell happened. I read the past paragraph and laugh, wondering how my words can fail me in such an intense part of my life. How the words written to represent my pain, my trial, can seem so empty — whiney even. I’ve been buffeted by waves of pain and despair the past few months yet I’ve refused to cry, refused to feel the pain, and refused to grieve for the losses I’ve suffered. Instead, I’ve chosen to smile, carry on, and have “faith.” My mantra has become: “It’ll all work out, it’ll all work out.”
I often shake my fist at God for God’s little pranks on me. I know they are not malicious and often help me in the end, but the irony sometimes is just too rich. Bringing me a test of faith when the issue topic is “Faith” may seem serendipitous to some reading this. “Ah,” you say, “but it gives you something to write about.” Yes, I suppose you’re right, and if I’m not careful I might just learn a lesson or two on faith. God’s ways are indeed mysterious. Of course, the pattern makes me want to choose topics like “abundant life” or “eternal joy” for future issues, so maybe I can have happier experiences to write about. Even then, I’m certain God could teach me hard lessons about such seemingly happy topics. There seems to be no outsmarting God when a valuable lesson is in the offing.
When I reflect on the past few months it strikes me that maybe I lost my faith after all. Maybe that silence where I used to find my faith means it’s packed up and left the building. In its place is a constantly running tape of self motivational speeches I keep repeating to myself.
“I’ll get through this.”
“The pain will subside.”
“Time will heal the pain of losing a relationship and your beloved pet.”
I do know I’ll get through this, that the pain will subside, that I’ll miss my relationship and my dog less and less over time. I realize all this. But is that really faith? And, if it is, is it faith in God or merely faith in the healing nature of time and distance? That’s a question that still puzzles me, but I believe the answer is twofold. There’s faith “inside” and faith “outside” of ourselves.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.
I have assurance that the things I hope for, less pain, more joy, healing for the giant hole in my heart left by all the losses, will heal. I know the pain will pass, life will go on and so will I. That’s faith, but I believe that’s faith in process, in time, not in God. This is a tried and true kind of faith in life itself. We’ve seen it all happen in our lives before. Bad times come and bad times go. It’s part of the cycle of life … balance coming after unbalance. If we have faith in time, distance, and our ability to survive hardship, we are rewarded by life returning to balance. This is a necessary faith in the human animal. Without it we give up hope, we give up our lives and our free will to guide our own lives and make our own decisions about how we’ll deal with the trials that inevitably come. I believe, however, that God “out there” has little to do with this process. Faith as the assurance of things hoped for is that faith in the strength deep inside of us, the part of God within all of us, that keeps us alive and hoping for better things. This is the faith in ourselves that motivates us to go on day to day, to keep breathing and trying and striving.
Faith is the conviction of things not seen.
This is where faith in God “out there” comes in. I can’t see where the time and distance will take me, but I have to trust it’s someplace better, someplace blessed, someplace God will take me to if I’ll only have faith, not just faith in myself but the kind of faith that is has conviction in things not seen. I can set a goal, see it, strive for it, try to make it mine with the faith as assurance of things hoped for, but I can never really see exactly where it will lead me, only God knows that. This is faith as the conviction of things not seen. I can imagine what my ultimate hope is, but I won’t see it until God shows it to me.
Perhaps it is this faith that I have lost along the way. The crushing events of the past several months have left me bereft of any real dreams. Oh, I know what I want, and I have faith that “things will work out”, but I feel set adrift in an ocean of uncertainty and despair. I’m not sure exactly what I believe “in” or have faith “in.” I’ve done the mental gymnastics to reestablish faith “in” myself. Despite the trouble in the relationship I’ve salvaged my self-esteem and my determination to go on. It was tricky for awhile, but here I am, better for the journey, I believe. That part of faith that is the assurance of things hoped for, is still there, and probably stronger than before. But where is the faith in the conviction of things not seen?
I believe to have a strong faith we must have both parts. The faith “in” and inside ourselves and that faith outside of us that is bigger than us, that makes us gape with wonder when we see miracles performed in our lives and in the world around us. I’m still waiting to see that miracle of faith.
This article has been written in fits and starts. I’ve begun this article over and over, toyed with it, moved things around and generally played worried mother and editor over it. Some bits have been revised, others cut out completely. I tell you this so you can know that the earlier paragraphs were written in a time of despair, anger and frustration. I wasn’t seeing any fruition from my faith … no proof that of its genuine existence. But that’s all changed. Thankfully, faith has left a forwarding address, and is not completely out of touch. It just took me realizing a few things to get it to move right back in. My wait for that miracle of faith has arrived, and I must shake my head in wonder at God and how God works in our lives if we’ll only hand over the control.
My miracle has come in small and large ways. One of the biggest miracles was a new job that I was not expecting. I had gone through the interview process rather half-heartedly, thinking, “well, if I get it, fine, and if I don’t, fine.” Not exactly that “go get ’em” attitude one usually has when job seeking. When the offer came it was a total surprise, and a pleasant one as far as money was concerned. That same day, a small miracle walked through the door in the form of a friend who had a washer and dryer for sale. I needed a set for my new apartment and a fast and cheap deal was struck. (That may not qualify for miracle status in some people’s books, but the thought of spending hundreds of dollars on a new set had been a source of agony for me for weeks!)
As I survey the past few stress filled months I can see God’s hand at work in these large and small ways. However, the miracle of this faith “outside” myself, that convicted faith, showed itself to me powerfully in the form of friends and family who rallied around me in my time of despair. I am especially grateful for the miracle of the caring people that God has seen fit to surround me with. I’ve always said you find out who your true friends are when you move. They’re the ones who call to volunteer before you call to twist their arm. They were all there … lifting furniture, and my spirits, joking, and having a good time helping me move. It was a miracle at work. My heart filled with love for these people and the God who put them in my life. This has perhaps been the biggest miracle of faith I’ve seen in a great while.
Perhaps God has a wicked sense of humor after all. Often it takes the complete destruction of our faith to realize just how strong our faith was in the first place. We often need to lose sight of our faith before we can see it clearly, with new eyes. God has opened my eyes, and given me a new vision of my faith. I laugh with delight now as I see just how solid that faith has become over the years.
I hear God laughing with me.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.